The history of the Walt Disney Company is bound up with the history of Walt Disney himself. Disney began cartooning in Kansas City with a series called Alice's Wonderland (1923), which included live action and animation. When he moved to California in 1923, he made arrangements with a New York company to distribute the Alice films. (The company considers this as its starting date.) Since Walt Disney (1901–1966) was a partner with his brother Roy (b. 1930), the company was originally called the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. However, the name was shortly changed to the Walt Disney Studio, which had moved to a location on Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood.
Beginning in 1927, the company developed an all-animated series called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit . After losing the rights to the character, Walt and his chief animator, Ub Iwerks (1901–1971), developed Mickey Mouse, the character that has come to symbolize the company itself. Mickey was featured in cartoons that utilized synchronized sound, the first of which was Steamboat Willie , which opened in New York on 18 November 1928. A long series of cartoons based on the popular character became the staple product of the company.
The company also began producing another series to feature sound and animation innovations. The Silly Symphonies series included "Flowers and Trees" (1932), the first full-color cartoon, which won the first Academy Award ® for Best Cartoon that same year. The Disney studio continued to win the award during the entire 1930s and most years thereafter. Disney also developed merchandising connected to its cartoon characters, beginning with a $300 license to put Mickey Mouse on writing tablets in 1929. Other products quickly followed, including dolls, toys, dishes, and so on, attracting funds that the company used to produce its innovative and popular cartoons.
The company expanded into feature-length animation with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Although there were doubts about the viability of feature length animated films, the project was an enormous success, becoming the highest grossing film of all time, until it was surpassed by Gone With the Wind (1939). The company continued to produce animated cartoons and features, including Pinocchio and Fantasia , both released in 1940. Many technical achievements were developed by the studio in the process, but the cost of the films strained the small company's resources, especially during World War II, when foreign markets were closed.
During World War II, Disney produced two films in South America for the US Department of State ( Saludos Amigos  and The Three Caballeros ), as well as propaganda and training films for the military. After the war, the company repackaged some of its cartoons into features ( Make Mine Music  and Melody Time ), as well as developing such live-action films as Song of the South (1946) and So Dear to My Heart (1949), both of which included animated segments. Disney's
Disney's first completely live-action film, Treasure Island , was released in 1950, as was the classic animated feature Cinderella and the first Disney television show at Christmas time. After two Christmas specials, Disney moved further into television with the beginning of the Disneyland anthology series in 1954. Over the years this series eventually appeared on all three networks under six different titles. When The Mickey Mouse Club , one of the most popular children's series on television, debuted in 1955, it introduced a group of young performers called Mouseketeers. These television shows promoted Disney products and developed an outlet for new products.
Another opportunity to promote Disney products was provided by the creation of Disneyland, a theme park that opened on 17 July 1955, in Anaheim, California. Featuring characters and stories from Disney films, the park was immediately successful and has continuously added new attractions based on new Disney films.
The Disney Company also finally started its own distribution company (Buena Vista Distribution) during the 1950s, having depended until then on other distribution firms to deliver its cartoons and features to theaters. Also during the 1950s, the company released 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ; the first in a series of wacky comedies, The Shaggy Dog (1954); and a TV series about the legendary fictional hero, Zorro. The company also developed Audio-Animatronics, which were introduced at Disneyland beginning with the Enchanted Tiki Room. Walt Disney died on 15 December 1966, shortly after the release of Mary Poppins (1964).